Why is vinyl making a mini-revival?
It can't have gone unnoticed that vinyl records have been growing in popularity in recent years, with most bands, certainly those bands in the rock and alternative music circles, releasing vinyl editions of new albums, and even supermarkets adding a vinyl section to their larger stores. The question is, why?
As always the answer is not a simple one. True vinyl enthusiasts will argue it's because vinyl sounds better than digital recordings, and to a point that's true. Vinyl deffo sounds better than the first generation or two of CD technology, but as mastering techniques improved CDs became just as wholesome sounding as vinyl recordings. Vinyl and CDs certainly sound better than 256k MP3 downloads (and WHY would you want a 128k download???). But of course digital fans will quote lack of cracking and sticking or jumping that they enjoy over vinyl. Plus there's the whole convenience thing. So it's horses for courses.
There's no doubt that there's money to be made. Most new vinyl has a hefty £20 price tag on it. The stores and music companies would argue economies of scale of course, but the technology to produce vinyl is a lot lower than it was in the 70s and 80s!
There is also the "cool" factor. It's perceived as cool to have a record player and an album collection on show in our status driven culture. Do these people actually listen to the albums though? Doubtful.
Then there's those of us in a certain generation, as well as a growing number in the generation of today, who do get it about vinyl.
Vinyl enables you to experience music in a way that CD cannot truly emulate, and that downloads simply ignores. With vinyl, you get a physical product that has weight and substance, artwork that is big enough to see all the detail, lyrics sheets that you don't need a magnifying glass to read.
What's even better, you get a narrative lacking in the download era. Concept albums, semi-concept albums, themed albums. We used to get them in regular intervals, and to do a concept album full justice, you need to be able to hear and see the whole concept, not download it in 3 minute segments.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Watcher, Giles, explains to a computer teacher why he prefers old books to computers. I'm going to substitute the word "vinyl" for "books" and "music" for "knowledge". I'll let "computer" represent all things digital:
Miss Calendar asks Giles why he has such a downer on computers, and he says simply "The smell." She replies, "Computers don't smell!" To which Giles responds:
"Exactly. Smell is the most powerful trigger to the memory there is. A certain flower or a whiff of smoke can bring up experiences long forgotten. Vinyl smells musty and rich. The music gained from a computer is…it has no texture, no context. It’s there and then it’s gone. If it’s to last, then the getting of music should be tangible. It should be, um, smelly."
For me, it's the whole experience thing that says why vinyl is back. The romantic in me hopes that's true of the majority of people who buy records.